The link between inequality and population health in low and middle income countries: Policy myth or social reality?

I.A. van Deurzen, W.J.H. van Oorschot, E.J. van Ingen

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Abstract

An influential policy idea states that reducing inequality is beneficial for improving health in the low and middle income countries (LMICs). Our study provides an empirical test of this idea: we utilized data collected by the Demographic and Health Surveys between 2000 and 2011 in as much as 52 LMICs, and we examined the relationship between household wealth inequality and two health outcomes: anemia status (of the children and their mothers) and the women' experience of child mortality. Based on multi-level analyses, we found that higher levels of household wealth inequality related to worse health, but this effect was strongly reduced when we took into account the level of individuals' wealth. However, even after accounting for the differences between individuals in terms of household wealth and other characteristics, in those LMICs with higher household wealth inequality more women experienced child mortality and more children were tested with anemia. This effect was partially mediated by the country's level and coverage of the health services and infrastructure. Furthermore, we found higher inequality to be related to a larger health gap between the poor and the rich in only one of the three examined samples. We conclude that an effective way to improve the health in the LMICs is to increase the wealth among the poor, which in turn also would lead to lower overall inequality and potential investments in public health infrastructure and services.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere151109
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume9
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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